A former restaurant owner denied in her bid to start a new venture here has hired an attorney following a bizarre exchange with the Warren Town Council last Tuesday evening.
Fab Goldberg, who owned the Basically British Tea Room in the Cutler Mill before being evicted in June 2009, appeared before the council with partner Virginia Forbes in hopes of taking over the vacant Cheese Plate. The restaurant at the corner of State and Water streets has been closed for six weeks.
“We’re going to be taking over the Cheese Plate and serving lunches and also doing pastries,” Ms. Goldberg told the council. But less than two minutes after she and her partner approached to request the transfer of victualing and liquor licenses to their venture “Nosh,” the council voted unanimously to deny both applications. They did so without taking comment from the audience, or discussing the matter.
“It’s been motioned, it’s been seconded, it’s been decided,” Town Council president Chris Stanley said when Ms. Goldberg, obviously surprised, asked why. “On recommendation of the solicitor. Have a pleasant evening.”
Though he declined to get into specifics on the record, Mr. Stanley said in a telephone call later that the council declined to discuss the matter further “to spare the applicant some pain.” He was likely alluding to the experience of several of Ms. Goldberg’s former business associates, one of whom sat silently at Tuesday’s meeting and said he would have spoken if the public was asked for input.
AVTECH founder Michael Sigourney, who bought the Cutler Mill from Dave Wescott in late 2008 and inherited Ms. Goldberg as a tenant, did not mince words when contacted late last week. He said his experiences with Ms. Goldberg were so bad that he was forced to evict her in mid-2009 after taking her to court for payment of back rent and other costs. He said he lost some $53,000 to the Water Street resident and dealt with more stress than he needed in the process; Mr. Wescott said this week that Ms. Goldberg still owes him a $13,000 judgement.
“If the public was asked, I certainly would have said that I don’t think this is a positive move for the community,” Mr. Sigourney said. “Given the track record of one of the two partners, I wouldn’t have been in favor of” the council’s approval.
Mr. Sigourney may yet get to speak his mind, if the Nosh partners have their way. The day after the council’s vote, Ms. Goldberg called Robert Healey, a Barrington attorney who founded the Cheese Plate more than five years ago. The attorney said Monday that the council’s treatment of his client was unlike anything he’s seen in all his years in the business.
“It doesn’t make for a good commercial for Warren, for economic development, that’s for sure,” he said. “Clearly there was no hearing. I just find it mind-boggling, actually.”
Mr. Healey said he is aware of some of Ms. Goldberg’s civil issues with private individuals and the Town of Warren. But he said those should have had no bearing on the transfer of victualing and liquor licenses
“What seems to be the rumor on the street is that there are civil issues,” he said. “The problems (the council) may have with her may not relate to the serving of food. It’s like you trying to block me from getting a driver’s license because I kicked your dog.”
Mr. Healey said he has a few options, including taking legal action against the town to compel Warren to give his clients a “fair” hearing.
“Worse comes to worst, put something on the record,” he said. “It really doesn’t look like top notch playing. If the town wants to keep sticking its nose into things, it’s going to find itself on the wrong end of a lot of lawsuits.”
Reached Thursday, Mr. Stanley said he stands by the vote and believes the town is on solid legal ground. As for Ms. Goldberg?
“She’s got to get her house in order.”
Added councilor Joseph DePasquale after the vote: “I’m in favor of economic development, but not at the economic cost to others.”